Understaffing of NHS Maternity Services Puts Patient Safety at Risk

Author:
Jodie Cook
Senior Associate, Medical Negligence Lawyer
Date:
14/07/2021

The Health and Social Care Committee published a report this week on the safety of maternity services in England. The report shows some worrying statistics about the lack of staffing in the country’s maternity units, and emphasises the importance of sufficient staffing to ensure the safety of all mothers and babies.

There is a consistent message in the range of sources we evaluated that staffing across the whole area of maternity services requires improvement. While there have been recent improvements in the number of midwifery staff, persistent gaps in all maternity professions remain.The Health and Social Care Committee’s Expert Panel

For far too long the NHS has been underfunded and understaffed and we urge the NHS to make the proposed changes set out in the report to ensure patient safety.

Our Medical Negligence Solicitors have helped many families who have suffered from birth injuries due to substandard maternity care to get the support they need. We know how difficult this can be, and children affected may need lifelong care and therapy.

If you’ve been affected by negligent maternity care, get in touch for a free consultation with legal advice.

Call us on 08002605010 or request a callback and we will help you.

Shocking Staffing Statistics

It’s well known that understaffing has been an ongoing issue within our public health sector, but this recent report shows some shocking statistics about maternity unit staffing. Some statistics include:

      • Health Education England calculated that the NHS remains short of 1,932 midwives
      • 83% of midwives felt that there weren’t enough staff on their shift to provide a safe service, according to an RCM survey
      • Despite the Government’s claim that there’s 4.8% more obstetricians and gynaecologists than there were in 2019, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists suggest that we still need an increase of 20%, which would mean an extra 496 consultants
      • Almost 21% of women receiving pain relief in labour require input from an anaesthetist, but the Royal College of Anaesthetists recorded a workforce gap of 11.8% of consultants

The report really highlights how important it is that maternity units are staffed with healthcare professionals from a range of disciplines to support mothers and babies through every step of their labour. This can be complicated as many staff also work in other areas outside of the maternity unit, for example obstetricians may be working in gynaecology units.

What Does Safe Staffing Mean?

According to the Health and Social Care Committee, safe staffing means having the right amount of staff in every maternity unit so that no matter how busy it is, safe care is always possible.

For the last 20 years, Birthrate Plus has measured safe levels of midwifery staffing, but this doesn’t factor in staff from other disciplines that are often needed on maternity units.

The Impact of Understaffing

We helped a family whose baby boy was delivered in poor condition. He was underweight and susceptible to hypothermia and hypoglycaemia.

Because of this, it was vital that he was monitored on a regular basis, but staff at the hospital failed to notice that the child was lethargic and didn’t consult a paediatrician about his difficulties.

The baby sustained brain damage, which resulted in Cerebral Palsy.

Our Medical Negligence team helped the family get £12 million in compensation, which pays for the boy’s 24-hour care that he will need for the rest of his life. You can read more about our client’s story here.

It is a sad reality that due to understaffing and underfunding mistakes are bound to happen. This is why we support this recent maternity report to demand change now.

Time for Change

Not only does the report highlight staffing and funding issues but it also sets out targets for the NHS and the Government to meet in order to improve maternity services.

The report recommends that:

        • The budget for maternity services be increased by £200–350m per annum with immediate effect and kept under close review
        • A proportion of maternity budgets should be ring-fenced for training in every maternity unit
        • A tool to measure safe staffing levels of obstetricians is developed and used to make sure there are safe levels of all maternity staff, not just midwives

Overall, the report calls for more staffing and more funding until every mother and child can be certain that they will be safe on the maternity unit and we are calling on the NHS and the Government to make those important changes now.

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